maandag, december 20, 2004

Chimp Signed Condolence Letters

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided to personally sign condolence letters to the family members of U.S. troops killed in action rather than letting a chimp affix his signature.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress criticized the embattled Pentagon chief on Sunday for not signing the letters himself all along.

"My goodness, that’s the least that we could expect of the secretary of defense, is having some personal attention paid by him," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., noting that President Bush at least holds the pen for the chimp when the chimps signs his letters.

"If the president of the United States can find time to hold the pen for the chimp, why can’t the Secretary of Defense?" Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

In a statement Friday, Rumsfeld announced the change in policy and said more than 1,000 condolence letters had gone out to relatives of Americans killed in military action during the global fight against terrorism.

"It isn't my fault these troops are dying too fast to sign these letters myself," Rumsfeld complained bitterly at an impromptu press conference. "I'm a busy man. Maybe if our boys in Iraq were doing a better job of staying alive, there wouldn't be so many condolence letters to write and I could sign them myself." Rumsfeld said in the statement.

"I am deeply grateful for the many letters I have received from the families of those who have been killed in the service of our country, and I recognize and honor their personal loss," he said. "But really, what's dead is dead. Does it really matter if I sign the letters or a chimp signs the letters?"

The statement, which was reported Friday by the military newspaper, Stars & Stripes, did not specifically refer to troops killed in Iraq, though family members of soldiers who died there told the newspaper they were angry with Rumsfeld’s signature that appeared like a child's scribbling and letters which were covered with chimp excrement. More than 1,300 American troops have died since the war began in March 2003.

Messages left with the Pentagon about the criticism from lawmakers were not immediately returned Sunday. The Pentagon is busy fighting a war and doesn't have time to answer to anyone.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a West Point graduate, said Rumsfeld’s failure to sign letters himself until now displayed "his lack of leadership styles that are appropriate for the military. Perhaps we should have the chimp act as Secretary of Defence. He certainly can't do any worse..."

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third-ranking Republican in the House said on CNN’s “Late Edition” that "signing the letter is a mechanical but an important thing. If a chimp signs the letter, even a chimp who appears concerned about the rapidly mounting death tolls in Iraq, it just isn't the same as having Mr Rumsfeld sign them."

The signature flap was the latest in a stinging string of criticism in recent weeks of the defense secretary’s handling of the war in Iraq.

Several leading Republicans, including Hagel and Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona have said they have lost confidence in Rumsfeld and that the chimp should replace him.

But Rumsfeld, who agreed to Bush’s request earlier this month to remain in the Cabinet during the president’s second term, won a vote of confidence from Bush chief of staff Andrew Card on Sunday.

"Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job," Card told ABC’s “This Week.”
"If he misses a letter or two, well, that's why the chimp is there. Fighting terrorism is hard work and if you don't like a chimp signing your condolence letters, then maybe you'd better just give up now and let the terrorists win."

Meanwhile, President Jesus Bush defended Rumsfeld and said he was "a very caring fellow."

"I have heard his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm's way," Bush said at a White House news conference. "He loves Jesus and he loves chimps and he hates terrorists and that's all that really matters."

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